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Anyone who’s ever been a teenager is likely familiar with the question, “Why aren’t you doing something productive?” If only I knew, as an angsty 15-year-old, what I know after conducting the research for this article. If only I could respond to my parents with the brilliant retort, “You know, the idea of productivity actually dates back to before the 1800s.” If only I could ask, “Do you mean ‘productive’ in an economic or modern context?”
Back then, I would have been sent to my room for “acting smart.” But today, I’m a nerdy adult who is curious to know where today’s widespread fascination with productivity comes from. There are endless tools and apps that help us get more done — but where did they begin?
If you ask me, productivity has become a booming business. And it’s not just my not-so-humble opinion — numbers and history support it. Let’s step back in time, and find out how we got here, and how getting stuff done became an industry.
What Is Productivity?
The Economic Context
Dictionary.com defines productivity as “the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.” In an economic context, the meaning is similar — it’s essentially a measure of the output of goods and services available for monetary exchange.
How we tend to view productivity today is a bit different. While it remains a measure of getting stuff done, it seems like it’s gone a bit off the rails. It’s not just a measure of output anymore — it’s the idea of squeezing every bit of output that we can from a single day. It’s about getting more done in shrinking amounts of time.
It’s a fundamental concept that seems to exist at every level, including a federal one — the Brookings Institution reports that even the U.S. government, for its part, “is doing more with less” by trying to implement more programs with a decreasing number of experts on the payroll.
The Modern Context
And it’s not just the government. Many employers — and employees — are trying to emulate this approach. For example, CBRE Americas CEO Jim Wilson told Forbes, “Our clients are focused on doing more and producing more with less. Everybody’s focused on what they can do to boost productivity within the context of the workplace.”
It makes sense that someone would view that widespread perspective as an opportunity. There was an unmet need for tools and resources that would solve the omnipresent never-enough-hours-in-the-day problem. And so it was monetized to the point where, today, we have things like $25 notebooks — the Bullet Journal, to be precise — and countless apps that promise to help us accomplish something at any time of day.
But how did we get here? How did the idea of getting stuff done become an industry?
A Brief History of Productivity
Productivity and Agriculture
In his article “The Wealth Of Nations Part 2 — The History Of Productivity,” investment strategist Bill Greiner does an excellent job of examining this concept on a purely economic level. In its earliest days, productivity was largely limited to agriculture — that is, the production and consumption of food. Throughout the world around that time, rural populations vastly outnumbered those in urban areas, suggesting that fewer people were dedicated to non-agricultural industry.
On top of that, prior to the 1800s, food preservation was, at most, archaic. After all, refrigeration wasn’t really available until 1834, which meant that crops had to be consumed fast, before they spoiled. There was little room for surplus, and the focus was mainly on survival. The idea of “getting stuff done” didn’t really exist yet, suppressing the idea of productivity.
The Birth of the To-Do List
It was shortly before the 19th century that to-do lists began to surface, as well. In 1791, Benjamin Franklin recorded what was one of the earliest-known forms of it, mostly with the intention of contributing something of value to society each day — the list opened with the question, “What good shall I do this day?”
Source: Daily Dot
The items on Franklin’s list seemed to indicate a shift in focus from survival to completing daily tasks — things like “dine,” “overlook my accounts,” and “work.” It was almost a precursor to the U.S. Industrial Revolution, which is estimated to have begun within the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The New York Stock & Exchange Board was officially established in 1817, for example, signaling big changes to the idea of trade — society was drifting away from the singular goal of survival, to broader aspirations of monetization, convenience, and scale.
1790 – 1914
The Industrial Revolution actually began in Great Britain in the mid-1700s, and began to show signs of existence in the U.S. in 1794, with the invention of the cotton gin — which mechanically removed the seeds from cotton plants. It increased the rate of production so much that cotton eventually became a leading U.S. export and “vastly increased the wealth of this country,” writes Joseph Wickham Roe.
Source: Gregory Clark
It was one of the first steps in a societal step toward automation — to require less human labor, which often slowed down production and resulted in smaller output. Notice in the table below that, beginning in 1880, machinery added the greatest value to the U.S. economy. So from the invention of the cotton gin to the 1913 unveiling of Ford’s inaugural assembly line (note that “automotive” was added to the table below in 1920), there was a common goal among the many advances of the Industrial Revolution: To produce more in — you guessed it — less time.
Source: Joel Mokyr
1914 – 1970s
Source: Joel Mokyr
Advances in technology — and the resulting higher rate of production — meant more employment was becoming available in industrial sectors, reducing the agricultural workforce. But people may have also become busier, leading to the invention and sale of consumable scheduling tools, like paper day planners.
According to the Boston Globe, the rising popularity of daily diaries coincided with industrial progression, with one of the earliest known to-do lists available for purchase — the Wanamaker Diary — debuting in the 1900s. Created by department store owner John Wanamaker, the planner’s pages were interspersed with print ads for the store’s catalogue, achieving two newly commercial goals: Helping an increasingly busier population plan its days, as well as advertising the goods that would help to make life easier.
Source: Boston Globe
World War I
But there was a disruption to productivity in the 1900s, when the U.S. entered World War I, from April 1917 to the war’s end in November 1918. Between 1918 and at least 1920 both industrial production and the labor force shrank, setting the tone for several years of economic instability. The stock market grew quickly after the war, only to crash in 1929 and lead to the 10-year Great Depression. Suddenly, the focus was on survival again, especially with the U.S. entrance into World War II in 1941.
Source: William D. O’Neil
But look closely at the above chart. After 1939, the U.S. GDP actually grew. That’s because there was a revitalized need for production, mostly of war materials. On top of that, the World War II era saw the introduction of women into the workforce in large numbers — in some nations, women comprised 80% of the total addition to the workforce during the war.
World War II and the Evolving Workforce
The growing presence of women in the workforce had major implications for the way productivity is thought of today. Starting no later than 1948 — three years after World War II’s end — the number of women in the workforce only continued to grow, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
That suggests larger numbers of women were stepping away from full-time domestic roles, but many still had certain demands at home — by 1975, for example, mothers of children under 18 made up nearly half of the workforce. That created a newly unmet need for convenience — a way to fulfill these demands at work and at home.
Once again, a growing percentage of the population was strapped for time, but had increasing responsibilities. That created a new opportunity for certain industries to present new solutions to what was a nearly 200-year-old problem, but had been reframed for a modern context. And it began with food production.
1970s – 1990s
The 1970s and the Food Industry
With more people — men and women — spending less time at home, there was a greater need for convenience. More time was spent commuting and working, and less time was spent preparing meals, for example.
The food industry, therefore, was one of the first to respond in kind. It recognized that the time available to everyone for certain household chores was beginning to diminish, and began to offer solutions that helped people — say it with us — accomplish more in fewer hours.
Those solutions actually began with packaged foods like cake mixes and canned goods that dated back to the 1950s, when TV dinners also hit the market — 17 years later, microwave ovens became available for about $500 each.
But the 1970s saw an uptick in fast food consumption, with Americans spending roughly $6 billion on it at the start of the decade. As Eric Schlosser writes in Fast Food Nation, “A nation’s diet can be more revealing than its art or literature.” This growing availability and consumption of prepared food revealed that we were becoming obsessed with maximizing our time — and with, in a word, productivity.
The Growth of Time-Saving Technology
Technology became a bigger part of the picture, too. With the invention of the personal computer in the 1970s and the World Wide Web in the 1980s, productivity solutions were becoming more digital. Microsoft, founded in 1975, was one of the first to offer them, with a suite of programs released in the late 1990s to help people stay organized, and integrate their to-do lists with an increasingly online presence.
Source: Wayback Machine
It was preceded by a 1992 version of a smartphone called Simon, which included portable scheduling features. That introduced the idea of being able to remotely book meetings and manage a calendar, saving time that would have been spent on such tasks after returning to one’s desk. It paved the way for calendar-ready PDAs, or personal digital assistants, which became available in the late 1990s.
By then, the idea of productivity was no longer on the brink of becoming an industry — it was an industry. It would simply become a bigger one in the decades to follow.
The Early 2000s
The Modern To-Do List
Once digital productivity tools became available in the 1990s, the release of new and improved technologies came at a remarkable rate — especially when compared to the pace of developments in preceding centuries.
In addition to Microsoft, Google is credited as becoming a leader in this space. By the end of 2000, it won two Webby Awards and was cited by PC Magazine for its “uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results.” It was yet another form of time-saving technology, by helping people find the information they were seeking in a way that was more seamless than, say, using a library card catalog.
In April 2006, Google Calendar was unveiled, becoming one of the first technologies that allowed users to share their schedules with others, helping to mitigate the time-consuming exchanges often required of setting up meetings. It wasn’t long before Google also released Google Apps for Your Domain that summer, providing businesses with an all-in-one solution — email, voicemail, calendars, and web development tools, among others.
Source: Wayback Machine
During the first 10 years of the century, Apple was experiencing a brand revitalization. The first iPod was released in 2001, followed by the MacBook Pro in 2006 and the iPhone in January 2007 — all of which would have huge implications for the widespread idea of productivity.
2008 – 2014
Search Engines That Talk — and Listen
When the iPhone 4S was released in 2011, it came equipped with Siri, “an intelligent assistant that helps you get things done just by asking.” Google had already implemented voice search technology in 2008, but it didn’t garner quite as much public attention — most likely because it required a separate app download. Siri, conversely, was already installed in the Apple mobile hardware, and users only had to push the iPhone’s home button and ask a question conversationally.
But both offered further time-saving solutions. To hear weather and sports scores, for examples, users no longer had to open a separate app, wait for a televised report, or type in searches. All they had to do was ask.
The Latest Generation of Personal Digital Assistants
With the 2014 debut of Amazon Echo, voice activation wasn’t just about searching anymore. It was about full-blown artificial intelligence that could integrate with our day-to-day lives. It was starting to converge with the Internet of Things — the technology that allowed things in the home, for example, to be controlled digitally and remotely — and continued to replace manual, human steps with intelligent machine operation. We were busier than ever, with some reporting 18-hour workdays and, therefore, diminishing time to get anything done outside of our employment.
Here was the latest solution, at least for those who could afford the technology. Users didn’t have to manually look things up, turn on the news, or write down to-do and shopping lists. They could ask a machine to do it with a command as simple as, “Alexa, order more dog food.”
Of course, competition would eventually enter the picture and Amazon would no longer stand alone in the personal assistant technology space. It made sense that Google — who had long since established itself as a leader in the productivity industry — would enter the market with Google Home, released in 2016, and offering much of the same convenience as the Echo.
Of course, neither one has the same exact capabilities as the other — yet. But let’s pause here, and reflect on how far we’ve come.
2015 to 2020
Smart Devices are Everywhere
The Amazon Echo was just the beginning of smart devices that could help us plan out our day. We now have smart thermostats that schedule our heating and cooling, refrigerators that notify us when we’re low on food, TVs with every streaming service we need, and a handful of other appliances that schedule themselves around on our lifestyle.
While some might worry that smart devices could limit our level of motivation and productivity, others might disagree. Smart devices often free us up from mundane tasks while allowing us more time to focus on more productive things that are more important.
Big Data Powers Business Productivity
With technology like artificial intelligence, automation, analytics tools. and contact management systems, we are now able to gather more data about our audiences and customers quickly with the click of just a few buttons. This data has allowed marketers, as well as strategists in other departments to build tactics that engage audiences, please customers, generate revenue, and even offer major ROI.
Want to see an example? Here’s a great case study on how one successful agency used AI and analytics software to gather, report, and strategize around valuable client data.
Offices Rely on Productivity Tools
We’ve come a long way from Google Calendar. Each day, you might use a messaging system like Slack, a video software like Zoom, or task-management tools like Trello, Asana, or Jira to keep your work on track.
Aside from keeping employees on task, these tools have been especially important for keeping teams connected and on the same page. As modern workplaces increasingly embrace remote and international teammates, they’re also investing in digital task management and productivity tools that can keep everyone in the loop.
Looking to boost your digital tool stack? Check out this list of productivity tools, especially if you’re working remotely.
Where Productivity Is Now — and Where It’s Going
We started this journey in the 1700s with Benjamin Franklin’s to-do list. Now, here we are, over two centuries later, with intelligent machines making those lists and managing our lives for us.
Have a look at the total assets of some leaders in this space (as of the writing of this post, in USD):
Over time — hundreds of years, in fact — technology has made things more convenient for us. But as the above list shows, it’s also earned a lot of money for a lot of people. And those figures leave little doubt that, today, productivity is an industry, and a booming one at that.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in January 2017, but was updated in July 2020 for comprehensiveness and freshness.
Recently, a friend of mine asked me how my day was.
“Busy, but productive,” I replied.
But what did that even mean? I suppose what I’d really meant was that all I did was work: I got to work early, worked through lunch, broke for dinner, and then proceeded to sign back online to wrap a few things up after that. And now that I think about it, I barely even moved.
Many of us have this distorted idea of productivity where the more hours you put in, the more work you put out. The less you socialize during the day, the more work you put out. The less you move during the day, the more work you put out.
Trouble is, that’s not entirely true. In fact, countless studies have proven that some of the things we might think of as “a waste of time” — preparing and eating a healthy breakfast, watching a kitten video, taking a midday run — actually boost our productivity by leaps and bounds.
To help put this idea in perspective, check out the following counterintuitive productivity hacks. Sure, they may sound a little strange, but don’t let that deter you from trying them for yourself.
13 Unexpected Productivity Hacks That Actually Work
1. Build your schedule around your energy levels.
Each person has their own unique biological schedule called a circadian rhythm. This rhythm makes you tired at night and keeps you awake during the day. It also can determine your lulls and piques in energy.
To optimize your schedule for the most productive work, be honest about when your pique energy hours and schedule your most intricate or important projects then.
Scheduling work around pique energy and creativity times is a tactic HubSpot Marketing Blog Editor Caroline Forsey uses regularly.
“I know I work best in the morning,” Forsey explains. “I will snooze Slack notifications, put my phone away, and close my email tab, so I can focus during those two to three hours when I’m feeling most creative.”
2. Consider working less each week.
You might worry that working less will cause you to get less done. Actually, that’s far from the truth.
Not only does working long hours cause health problems, but there’s a wide body of research that shows productivity actually improves with shorter hours.
A study published by John Pencavel of Standford University found that how much employees get done takes a sharp drop after 50 hours of work in a week, and even more drastically after 55 hours. The study found that employees working 70 hours per week actually produce nothing more in those extra 15 hours.
What gives? Well, the more you work, the more mentally and physically tired you become. At some point — usually around the eighth hour of work in a given day, according to Sara Robinson in Salon — the resulting fatigue causes a drop in productivity. Unless you’re invigorated by something like a critical deadline, you’re unlikely to deliver to your full potential at that point.
In Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, he writes about the threshold above which working more hours meant people stopped producing more output. It happened on a curve, he explains, which he calls the “Maxwell Curve”:
Image Credit: Slate
The Y-axis is productivity and the X-axis is hours of work. Notice the peak of productivity falls just under 40 hours per week, although that curve will vary for different people — or even for the same person, but at different times in his or her life.
3. Eat your breakfast.
You might be thinking to yourself, “the faster I get out the door, the faster I’ll be able to start working, and the more I’ll get done.” Not so fast, though. What we eat — and whether we eat — actually has a direct impact on our performance at work.
We all wake up with low blood sugar first thing in the morning because we’ve technically been fasting for the past eight or so hours. That means that many of us wake up feeling tired, sluggish, apathetic, and even a little irritable. While your morning coffee can give you a solid caffeine boost, you’re likely in for a crash later that’ll harm your productivity.
Instead, opt for healthy breakfast foods with the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that’ll give you the energy you need to start a productive day. Foods rich in vitamin B — like oatmeal, bananas, pineapple, and avocados — can help improve your concentration. Avoid breakfast foods with added sugar like sugary cereal, donuts, Pop Tarts, and even bagels. Here are some more breakfast food ideas from our productivity diet infographic:
4. Get a proper amount of sleep.
The rumors are true: You need an adequate amount of sleep if you want to get more work (and better work) done throughout the day. So before you hop back online after dinner to keep working, think twice.
Not only does lack of sleep have both long- and short-term health implications, but it’s also a big, big productivity killer. According to a study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sleep-related reductions in productivity cost $3,156 per employee with insomnia, and averaged about $2,500 for those with less severe sleep problems.
How much sleep do you need to be productive? It varies a little from person to person, but not as much as you might think it does. Only 1–3% of people can actually pull off sleeping five or six hours a night without their performance suffering. In fact, most adults need seven or eight hours of sleep per night to operate at peak productivity the following day. Read this blog post for tips on getting the most out of your sleep.
5. Try not to be a perfectionist.
Perfectionism, while helpful in certain contexts, can be a major roadblock for productivity. Yes, there will always be something you can do to make a piece of work a little better. But what are you sacrificing by making minor improvements? At some point, you should be asking yourself: When is good enough good enough?
Keith Frankel wrote a thoughtful piece on our blog outlining a formula for “good enough.” He wrote about how he used to think of “done” as spending “every possible moment working on something — improving, polishing, and refining it — until I absolutely have to ship it.” But that wasn’t realistic. Here’s the formula for “good enough” that he came up with:
- It successfully solves the problem, addresses the need, or conveys the message intended.
- It is clearly and distinctly on brand.
- The quality of work is consistent with or above the level of previous work.
- It has been thoroughly yet objectively scrutinized by other qualified individuals.
- The final decision of preference had been left in the hands of the creator.
Once you come to the point where you feel comfortable deciding something’s good enough to move on … just move on.
6. Take a real lunch break, not a “working lunch.”
In a recent article for Jezebel (warning: NSFW language), Tracy Moore took a humorous yet science-backed stance on why we should take breaks regularly. Apparently, only one in five people actually leave their desks or the office for a lunch break. NPR took a look at the consequences of this, and found that staying in one place all day is “bad for thinking, bad for creativity, bad for productivity, [and] bad for your body.”
It doesn’t even matter if you eat during that lunch break — “you just need to get out,” Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management who studies workplace psychology, told NPR. “And it doesn’t have to be between 12:00 P.M. and 1:00 P.M. to have a positive impact. It can be just going outside and taking a walk around the block. That in itself is really restorative.”
7. Don’t discredit the power of naps.
There’s a reason many modern workplaces boast nap rooms in the office: It’s to boost employees’ productivity during the rest of the workday.
How? While a nap won’t make up for a poor night’s sleep, studies show taking a power nap in the middle of the day can help you process new information and even learn new skills. Recently, CBS News investigated the benefits of napping in the workplace. In the report, which you can watch below, CBS interviewed a number of psychologists in executives about the topic. They even featured our own CEO, Brian Halligan.
If you find it impossible to take a nap in your work environment, try taking a break to take a walk or even daydream.
8. Look at pictures of cute baby animals.
I’ll never forget the day in 2012 when a study by Hiroshima University in Japan blew up the internet. It found that the simple act of viewing images of cute animals can significantly increase your performance on tasks involving concentration.
After looking at images of baby animals, participants in the study performed 44% better in concentration tasks than they did when they performed the same task before looking at images of baby animals. And it was images of baby animals — as opposed to adult animals or pleasant-looking foods — that caused the biggest productivity increase.
In a hilarious medley of simple and technical language, the study concluded that “cute objects may be used as an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work.”
9. Clean your workspace.
Many of us find it hard to concentrate when our desks look like a tornado just went through. The papers, the crumbs, the piles of books we’re never going to read … it can all cause quite a bit of stress, and has actually been proven, in some cases, to undermine our productivity.
For instance, OfficeMax surveyed over 1,000 American adults and found that 90% of them believe clutter has a negative impact on their lives and work. Specifically, they found that 77% of them believe cluttered workspaces damage their productivity, and more than half believe it impairs their state of mind and motivation levels.
If you’re one of the many people now working remotely, a messy workspace or home can make things even more distracting than office disorganization.
But. on the other hand, some people claim to love their messy desks, and there are actually studies out there that have found, for example, that disordered environments make people focus on their goals more effectively. In the end, it’s all about “being honest about your clutter style,” Julia Mossbridge, M.A., PhD, and visiting scholar at Northwestern University Department of Psychology, told Fast Company. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself wasting time working against your natural tendencies.
10. Make a work playlist.
Can listening to music while you work actually make you more productive? Yes — but it’s not a direct cause-and-effect relationship. It turns out listening to music while you work can increase productivity, but mostly because it makes you happy, which prompts your brain to increase dopamine.
One study published by the University of Windsor in Canada looked at how listening to music affected work quality and time-on-task of software design, specifically. The study found that software developers who listened to music finished tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t — but for a very specific reason: because the music improved their mood.
“When you’re stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention,” said Teresa Lesiuk, who headed the study. “When you’re in a positive mood, you’re able to take in more options.”
The study found that personal choice for what you were listening to mattered a lot. After all, if you don’t like classical music, why would listening to it make you happier? So put on a pair of headphones and check out this list of six science-backed music playlists for increasing your productivity.
11. Visit a coffee shop.
While music by itself may not be responsible for a productivity boost, studies show that the ambient sounds of a coffee shop can be. A study published by the Journal of Consumer Research explored the effects of ambient noise on creativity. Results from five experiments concluded that a moderate level of ambient noise (70 decibels, which is roughly how loud the music in a coffee shop would be) enhances performance on creative tasks. A high level of noise (85 decibels, or about how loud a motorcycle sounds when it passes you) hurts creativity.
If you can’t escape to a coffee shop, you can recreate the ambient buzz of a coffee shop with Cofftivity. It offers non-stop coffee shop background sounds at varying intensities, from “Morning Murmur” and “University Undertones” to “Lunchtime Lounge” and “Brazil Bistro.”
12. Exercise during the workday.
Chances are, you’ve heard that regular exercise can do wonders for your health, happiness, and productivity. But what about exercising during the workday? Researchers have actually found that people who exercise during normal working hours are actually more productive at work, even though they technically logged fewer hours. Here are 10 ideas for sneaking in exercise at work without looking silly, from taking short “active breaks” to replacing your desk chair with a stability ball.
13. Use your vacation time.
Burnout is real, folks. When you work for months and months without taking a significant break, you risk sliding into a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
The benefits of taking time off for your productivity and work performance are more numerous than you might think. Almost nine out of ten American workers feel like time off increases their happiness — which, in turn, can do wonders for your productivity. Not to mention 91% of business leaders believe their employees return recharged and ready to work more effectively.
Plus, a healthy dose of time off means you’ll create lasting memories with family and friends, which can reduce your stress levels and risk of depression, high blood pressure, and weight gain. But it’s up to you to give yourself that time off: No one’s gonna do it for you. In the end, you’ll be more productive for it.
More Productivity Tips
If you don’t think some items on this list aren’t doable for your lifestyle or schedule, don’t worry, This list isn’t exhaustive — and people have been developing productivity hacks for centuries.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in January 2016, but was updated in July 2020 for comprehensiveness and freshness.
Whether you’re conducting a blog traffic audit or analyzing the success of your most recent social media campaign, it’s undeniable that data is an integral part of any marketing role.
As HubSpot’s Director of Analytics, Bridget Zingale, says, “Reporting and attribution haverevolutionized marketing in every industry. Marketing data allows businesses to make more informed decisions about their audiences’ needs, challenges, and interests.”
Fortunately, there are dozens of analytics tools for marketers with the ability to collect data from different sources, crunch it effectively, and deliver helpful campaign analysis.
Ultimately, reporting tools should do more than just calculate — they should also make the marketer’s job easier, and more productive. Creating attractive and readable reports is key to ensuring that the results of your work are clear for your entire team.
Here, let’s dive into some of the best data reporting tools, as well as some effective business intelligence (BI) platforms, to enable you to properly analyze your work.
Best Business Intelligence & Data Reporting Tools
As Zingale notes, “Data points such as age, ethnicity, gender, location, education, and employment have informed marketing teams and heightened the impact of campaigns across the board.”
Good tools you use should give you the above metrics — but greattools give you more. If you’re one of the 75% of marketerswho report ROI from marketing campaigns, you’re going to need reliable, accurate data. Let’s explore the 14 best tools to help get you the data you need.
HubSpot’sfree marketing analytics softwareis useful for keeping all of your needs, including reporting, in one place. HubSpot lets you combine all of your marketing efforts into one report, or mix-and-match your different assets to create different reports for different clients and needs.
HubSpot’s marketing analytics dashboard is just as customizable, allowing you to add and remove different reports with ease. Best of all, you can get both a general overview and specific insights into your work’s performance, since you can easily move between different marketing reports within HubSpot.
Calendar offers analytics of a slightly different sort: productivity. It has a number of features designed to analyze how your team’s time is spent. By tracking your moment-to-moment activities on a daily basis, you can identify key areas in which your schedule could be improved.
As important as it is to have your marketing analytics at your fingertips, knowing how you use your time is just as important for maximizing output. Calendar’s clear and simple reporting tools give you helpful reports on what your agenda looks like and what you can do to make it better.
DashThis is an effective tool for keeping up with marketing analytics at a glance. As its name suggests, DashThis is a dashboard that provides clear data on your KPIs for campaigns. You can access quick metrics and reports from your dashboard, shown below:
DashThis lets you select a template and then automatically fills that template with your data, greatly streamlining the reporting process. It also exports data into PDF files, which can be easily shared between team members.
4. Raven Tools
Raven Tools offers many of the tools expected from reporting software — SEO analysis, social media engagement, funnel performance tracking — as well as competitor comparison.
Whether it’s big-picture analyses like domain authority or small-scale comparisons of site functionality, Raven Tools lets you stay on top of how you’re faring in competitive spaces. Additionally, its drag-and-drop editor and report generator makes creating custom, professional-grade marketing reports easier.
Megalytic eases the process of combining marketing data from lots of different sources. Plenty of tools on this list allow for the integration of different types of data, but Megalytic is especially designed to import data from a range of marketing software.
It takes only a couple of moments to access data from Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, Adwords, and more on Megalytic, and it can even process and report data stored in CSV files. If you’re looking to produce a comprehensive report that pulls together loads of disparate data into one place, Megalytic is a smart choice.
As important as it is for reporting tools to effectively take in and analyze data, they need to be able to produce readable reports, as well. Klipfolio is great for making sure your reports can be read and accessed with ease across technologies. Your results can be accessed on a single dashboard that updates in real-time.
Additionally, Klipfolio allows you to share access to your reports through Slack, email, or custom links, and it also enables you to sync your dashboards in real time across multiple devices such as smartphones, web browsers, and even TV screens. Being able to easily pull up your analytics dashboard at any moment on any number of devices is crucial for being able to report on-the-go or from various locations.
Mixpanel is a tracking and reporting software tool that was initially created primarily for product managers, not marketers. As a result, its interface isn’t as streamlined or marketing-driven as some of the other options on this list, but it makes up for this with powerful analytics tools that give insight into how your work is faring.
Mixpanel is particularly attuned to identifying trends in engagement and count. It tracks how people engage with certain products over time and how different features influence user behavior with bright, colorful graphs.
If you’re especially interested in keeping track of how a certain site or product is performing, it can be a valuable tool for reporting on that kind of information. Mixpanel allows you to produce readable reports of uniquely high-level data analysis.
Although Intercom is a messaging platform first and foremost, it also delivers a deep view of a company’s customer base. Through integrations with over 100 marketing tools, Intercom lets marketers track, segment, and identify similarities between their customers. One of the best use cases for Intercom’s BI features is account-based marketing and messaging.
Intercom displays performance figures for each stage of your sales and marketing funnel, helping you see where the best opportunities lie and how to tap into them. You can also break down metrics by individual representatives, teams, timeframes, and more.
G2 is the go-to website for stacking up software tools against one another. G2 gives detailed charts for every category of marketing software, explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each available product.
Need an enterprise resource planning tool? G2 covers those. What about an e-commerce platform? G2 can help you pick the best option in that category, too. Certain services, including staffing and translation services, are also reviewed by G2.
Through integrations with HubSpot CRM, Google Analytics, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more, Databox compiles popular marketing services and social media into one interface. It comes with pre-configured report templates, but users can also design custom reports.Think of Databox like a dashboard for your dashboards, where you can see valuable marketing and sales metrics.
The reporting tool lets you view campaign KPIs, check progress, calculate investment returns, and receive notifications when metrics fall outside of specified ranges. Databox has a desktop version, of course, but it also displays data on mobile and via applications like Slack.
Statisticians and analysts may be more comfortable with reporting and BI than marketers, but these tools make it easy. Pick the right ones, and get data-driven campaign insights with ease.
MaxG is a platform that leverages AI to drive results. Their software prioritizes recommendations when delivering insights to eliminate guesswork about how to improve content.
The reports are broken down into metrics, shown below. MaxG’s software keeps track of how many users interacted with various content across your webpages.
The platform offers insights on multiple metrics, including email campaigns, landing pages, and CTAs. In addition to performance recommendations, the tool also provides resources that educate its users about various topics, like an informative blog post.
This service is offered by Microsoft. If you want to integrate data directly into reports, this is a good tool for you. Power BI is a useful tool, and was formulated by the engineers at the company so users can get powerful, full-scale analytics at a low cost.
Power BI’s analytics are able to scale for organizations of any size. It boasts built-in AI software that offers custom data metrics. You’ll also have a brilliant display of visualizations to go along with your insights.
You can use Power BI to query your data and edit it without affecting other programs you use. In addition to an Excel integration, the software’s dashboard is easy to navigate.
With Datapine, you’ll have access to reporting tools that communicate KPIs on a single dashboard. The quick access to real-time, accurate metrics saves you time and keeps your team on the same page.
If you don’t have much technical experience, you won’t have to worry — Datapine is easy to navigate and analyze. The platform is also highly integratable, so you can customize results from other sources.
Personalize further by dragging and dropping KPIs that mean the most onto your dashboard. Datapine gives you access to a global performance filter and predictive analysis. Essentially, the AI-powered software combs through data and suggests improvements.
Let’s say you need an inclusive, sophisticated report that’s quick to gather. Datapine lets you export dashboards by emails, URL, or with an embed code, which is handy for your presentation.
14. Zoho Analytics
Zoho Analytics is a part of the larger Zoho Cloud software suite. With it, you can synchronize data that’s spread across multiple sources. The data will sync on a periodic basis so you won’t have to worry about continuously deducing the numbers.
Like other platforms, Zoho’s reports are completely customizable. Some of the options you can include are split columns, cleanup data, and calculated fields. This is so you can receive the data that matters most to your business goals.
If you want to compare data from multiple sources, add lookup columns so they’ll be included in reports. As another feature of reports, format the data to your liking. With over 40 chart types, like geographical maps, funnels, tables, and heat maps, reports can be extremely detailed and streamlined.
As marketers, we use data daily. It’s an integral part of what we have to do for our jobs. That’s why it’s a necessity to have data that works for you.
If, right now, your data reporting tool is nothing short of a headache, one of these tools can be a great places to start. They’re going to offer you personalized results that you can share with your team, which will keep everyone aligned.
When you’re thinking about investing in a product or service, what’s the first thing you do?
Usually, it’s one or both of the following: You’ll likely ask your friends whether they’ve tried the product or service, and if they have, whether they would recommend it. You’ll also probably do some online research to see what others are saying about said product or service. Nowadays, 90% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the last year, and 82% of consumers read online reviews. This shows that the majority of people are looking to peers to make a purchasing decision.Most customers know that a little online research could spare them from a bad experience and poor investment of your budget.
What Is a Marketing Case Study?
A case study is the analysis of a particular instance (or “case”) of something to demonstrate quantifiable results as a result of the application of something. In marketing, case studies are used as social proof — to provide buyers with the context to determine whether they’re making a good choice.
A marketing case study aims to persuade that a process, product, or service can solve a problem. Why? Because it has done so in the past. By including the quantitative and qualitative outcomes of the study, it appeals to logic while painting a picture of what success looks like for the buyer. Both of which can be powerful motivators and objection removers.
Why Use Case Studies?
In essence, case studies are an invaluable asset when it comes to establishing proof that what you’re offering is valuable and of good quality.
According to HubSpot’s State of Marketing Report 2020, 13% of marketers name case studies as one of the primary forms of media used within their content strategy. This makes them the fifth most popular type of content, outshined only by visual content, blogs, and ebooks.
Okay, so you know case studies work. The question is, how do they work? And how can you squeeze the most value out of them?
When to Use a Case Study
Here are the ways you can market your case studies to get the most out of them.
As a Marketing or Sales Asset
Do not underestimate the value of providing social proof at just the right time in order to add value and earn their business. Case studies are extremely effective in the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey when they are actively comparing solutions and providers to solve a problem they’re experiencing.
For this reason, case studies in an independent PDF format can be helpful in both marketing and sales. Marketers can use these PDFs as downloads in web content or email campaigns. Sales reps can utilize these assets in demonstrations, in a follow-up, or to overcome objections.
The easiest way to create PDF case studies is by using a case study template. Doing so can decrease the amount of time you spend creating and designing your case study without sacrificing aesthetics. In addition, you can ensure that all your case studies follow a similar branded format.
We’ve created a great case study template (and kit!) that’s already locked and loaded for you to use. All you have to do is input your own text and change the fonts and colors to fit your brand. You can download it here.
On Your Website
2. Have a dedicated case studies page.
You should have a webpage exclusively for housing your case studies. Whether you call this page “Case Studies, “Success Studies,” or “Examples of Our Work,” be sure it’s easy for visitors to find.
Structure on that page is key: Initial challenges are clear for each case, as well as the goals, process, and results.
Get Inspired: Google’s Think With Google is an example of a really well structured case study page. The copy is engaging, as are the goals, approach, and results.
3. Put case studies on your home page.
Give website visitors every chance you can to stumble upon evidence of happy customers. Your home page is the perfect place to do this.
There are a number of ways you can include case studies on your homepage. Here are a few examples:
- Customer quotes/testimonials
- A call-to-action (CTA) to view specific case studies
- A slide-in CTA that links to a case study
- A CTA leading to your case studies page
Get Inspired: Theresumator.com incorporates testimonials onto their homepage to strengthen their value proposition.
Bonus Tip: Get personal.
Marketing gurus across the world agree that personalised marketing is the future. You can make your case studies more powerful if you find ways to make them “match” the website visitors that are important to you.
People react to familiarity — for instance, presenting someone from London with a case study from New York may not resonate as well as if you displayed a case study from the U.K. Or you could choose to tailor case studies by industry or company size to the visitor. At HubSpot, we call this “smart content.”
Get Inspired: To help explain smart content, have a look at the example below. Here, we wanted to test whether including testimonials on landing pages influenced conversion rates in the U.K. The landing page on the left is the default landing page shown to visitors from non-U.K. IP addresses. For the landing page on the right, we used smart content to show testimonials to visitors coming from U.K. IP addresses.
4. Implement slide-in CTAs.
Pop-ups have a reputation for being annoying, but there are ways to implement that that won’t irk your website visitors. These CTAs don’t have to be huge, glaring pop-ups — instead, relevant but discreet slide-in CTAs can work really well.
For example, why not test out a slide-in CTA on one of your product pages, with a link to a case study that profiles a customer who’s seen great results using that product?
Get Inspired: If you need some help on creating sliders for your website, check out this tutorial on creating slide-in CTAs.
5. Write blog posts about your case studies.
Once you publish a case study, the next logical step would be to write a blog post about it to expose your audience to it. The trick is to write about the case study in a way that identifies with your audience’s needs. So rather than titling your post “Company X: A Case Study,” you might write about a specific hurdle, issue, or challenge the company overcame, and then use that company’s case study to illustrate how the issues were addressed. It’s important not to center the blog post around your company, product, or service — instead, the customer’s challenges and how they were overcome should take centre stage.
For example, if we had a case study that showed how one customer generated twice as many leads as a result of our marketing automation tool, our blog post might be something along the lines of: “How to Double Lead Flow With Marketing Automation [Case Study].” The blog post would then comprise of a mix of stats, practical tips, as well as some illustrative examples from our case study.
Get Inspired: Check out this great example of a blog post from Moz, titled “How to Build Links to Your Blog – A Case Study.”
6. Create videos from case studies.
Internet services are improving all the time, and as a result, people are consuming more and more video content. Prospects could be more likely to watch a video than they are to read a lengthy case study. If you have the budget, creating videos of your case studies is a really powerful way to communicate your value proposition.
Get Inspired: Check out one of our many video testimonials for some ideas on how to approach your own videos.
7. Use case studies on relevant landing pages.
Once you complete a case study, you’ll have a bank of quotes and results you can pull from. Including quotes on product pages is especially interesting. If website visitors are reading your product pages, they are in a “consideration” mindset, meaning they are actively researching your products, perhaps with an intent to buy. Having customer quotes placed strategically on these pages is a great way to push them over the line and further down the funnel.
These quotes should be measured, results-based snippets, such as, “XX resulted in a 70% increase in blog subscribers in less an 6 months” rather than, “We are proud to be customers of XX, they really look after us.”
Get Inspired: I really like the way HR Software company Workday incorporates video and testimonials into its solutions pages.
Off Your Website
8. Post about case studies on social media.
Case studies make for perfect social sharing material. Here are a few examples of how you can leverage them on social:
- Share a link to a case study and tag the customer in the post. The trick here is to post your case studies in a way that attracts the right people to click through, rather than just a generic message like, “New Case Study ->> LINK.” Make sure your status communicates clearly the challenge that was overcome or the goal that was achieved. It’s also wise to include the main stats associated with the case study; for example, “2x lead flow,” “125% increase in X,” and so on.
- Update your cover image on Twitter/Facebook showing a happy customer. Our social media cover photo templates should help you with this!
- Add your case study to your list of publications on LinkedIn.
- Share your case studies in relevant LinkedIn Groups.
- Target your new case studies to relevant people on Facebook using dark posts. (Learn about dark posts here.)
Get Inspired: MaRS Discovery District posts case studies on Twitter to push people towards a desired action.
9. Use case studies in your email marketing.
Case studies are particularly suited to email marketing when you have an industry-segmentable list. For example, if you have a case study from a client in the insurance industry, emailing your case study to your base of insurance-related contacts can be a really relevant addition to a lead nurturing campaign.
Case studies can also be very effective when used in product-specific lead nurture workflows in reactivating opportunities that have gone cold. They can be useful for re-engaging leads that have gone quiet and who were looking at specific areas of your product that the case study relates to.
Get Inspired: It’s important that your lead nurture workflow content includes the appropriate content for where prospects are in the sales cycle. If you need help on how to do this, check out our post on how to map lead nurturing content to each stage in sales cycle.
10. Incorporate case studies into your newsletters.
This idea is as good for your client relations as it is for gaining the attention of your prospects. Customers and clients love feeling as though they’re part of a community. It’s human nature. Prospects warm to companies that look after their customers; companies whose customers are happy and proud to be part of something. Also, whether we are willing to admit it or not, people love to show off!
Get Inspired: Newsletters become stale over time. Give your newsletters a new lease of life with our guide on how to create newsletters that don’t suck.
11. Equip your sales team with case studies.
Tailored content has become increasingly important to sales reps as they look to provide value on the sales call. It’s estimated that consumers go through 70-90% of the buyer’s journey before contacting a vendor. This means that the consumer is more knowledgeable than ever before. Sales reps no longer need to spend an entire call talking about the features and benefits. Sales has become more complex, and reps now need to be armed with content that addresses each stage of the buyer’s process. Case studies can be really useful when it comes to showing prospects how successful other people within a similar industry has benefited from your product or service.
Get Inspired: Case studies are just one type of content that helps your sales team sell. They don’t always work by themselves, though. Check out our list of content types that help sales close more deals.
12. Sneak a case study into your email signature.
Include a link to a recent case study in your email signature. This is particularly useful for salespeople. Here’s what my email signature looks like:
Get Inspired: Did you know that there are lots more ways you can use your email signature to support your marketing? Here are 10 clever suggestions for how you can do this.
13. Use case studies in training.
Having customer case studies is an invaluable asset to have when onboarding new employees. It aids developing their buy-in, belief in, and understanding of your offering.
Get Inspired: Have you completed our Inbound Certification course yet? During our classes, we use case studies to show how inbound marketing is applied in real life.
In Lead-Gen Content
14. Include case studies in your lead gen efforts.
There are a number of offers you can create based off of your case studies, in the form of ebooks, templates, and more. For example you could put together an ebook titled “A step-by-step guide to reaching 10,000 blog subscribers in 3 months…just like XX did.” You could create a more in-depth version of the case study with access to detailed statistics as an offer. (And don’t forget, you can also use quotes and statistics from case studies on the landing page promoting the ebook, which adds credibility and could increase your conversion rates.) Or, you could create a template based on your customer’s approach to success.
Get Inspired: If you think you need to be an awesome designer put together beautiful ebooks, think again. Create ebooks easily using these customisable ebook templates.
You can also use case studies to frame webinars that document how to be successful with X. Using case studies in webinars is great middle-of-the-funnel content and can really help move your leads further down the funnel towards becoming sales qualified leads.
Get Inspired: Webinars are really effective as part of a lead nurturing workflow. Make sure your next webinar is spot on by following these simple webinar tips.
15. Create a bank of evergreen presentations.
It’s important to build up a bank of evergreen content that employees across your organisation can use during presentations or demos. Case studies are perfect for this.
Put together a few slides on the highlights of the case study to stir people’s interest, and then make them available to your sales and customer-facing teams. It’s helpful if the marketer who created the presentation is the one who presents it to anyone who might use them in the future. This ensures they can explain the presentation clearly and answer any questions that might arise.
Get Inspired: What to create presentations people want to use? Here’s a list of tools to make your presentations great.
16. Create SlideShares based on case studies.
Following on from a few short slides, you could also put together a more detailed presentation of the case study and upload it to SlideShare. After all, not only is SlideShare SEO-friendly (because Google indexes each presentation), but there is a huge pre-existing audience on SlideShare of over 60 million users you can tap into. SlideShare presentations are also easy to embed and share, and allow you to capture leads directly from the slides via a lead capture form.
Get Inspired: Want to generate more leads with SlideShare, but not sure how to get started? Check out this blog post.
Now that you understand the value of a marketing case study and the different ways that they can be used in your content marketing (and even sales) strategy, your next step is to think about what would convince your target audience to do business with you.
Have you recently accomplished something big for a client? Do you have a process or product with demonstrable results? What do your potential clients hope that you’ll do for them?
The answers to those questions will help you craft compelling content for your case study. Then, all that’s left is putting it into your audience’s hands in formats they want to consume.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.